At first, Karen Gaylord thought it was a deer.
The creature outside her window at about 8 a.m. on Feb. 12 looked like one of the many does or foxes that traipse through her family's tree line off of Bel Air's Cedarday Drive.
Then she noticed its "huge, long tail."
"I knew it wasn't a deer at all, and it kind of looked out at me and darted," Gaylord recalled. "It kind of freaked me out and it's nothing that I have ever seen around here before."
Gaylord told her husband, Mark Anderson, about the animal, which she swears looked simply like a deer with a "huge, long, dog-type tail."
Gaylord's daughter, in college at Penn State, found an Aegis article about a cougar sighting near Abingdon Elementary School in November 2013 and said perhaps the animal was a mountain lion.
When Anderson called the state's Department of Natural Resources, however, he said he was rebuffed by the employee and told there are no cougars in Maryland.
Despite the official dismissal, Gaylord said she is on edge about whatever may be lurking in the woods behind her house.
Her husband went out later to snap some photos of what look like paw prints in the snow.
"I won't let my cats outside again after seeing that," she said. "I didn't even like when my husband was taking pictures out there."
Now when she is outside, "I am always looking outside," Gaylord said. "This having a weird creature upset me."
"It was an odd-looking animal," she noted.
The state's wildlife and heritage service hears of about 20 to 40 cougar sightings per year, but none of them have panned out, the agency's associate director Glenn Therres said.
"We do not have naturally occurring populations [of cougars] in the state of Maryland," he said.
The closest natural populations are west of the Mississippi River or in Florida, he said.
Rarely, someone may (illegally) own such a wild animal. Therres said his father, who worked for the Baltimore City Fire Department, went to a house that had an African lion in it several years ago.
Nevertheless, no cougars, even purchased ones, have been spotted in Therres' 31 years with the state agency.
"A few years ago, there was a cougar that was killed on the highway or by a train in the state of Connecticut," Therres said about the closest verified cougar to Maryland.
Therres said his agency is glad to look at photos, but noted he is wary of people who look at websites or photos before they call.
Also, "we have had a rash of hoaxes recently," he said.
Therres added that Gaylord is more likely to have seen a coyote, especially if it was tan with a long tail.
"Probably a lot of these cougar sightings are coyotes," he said.
No cougar reports have come into any state office in the past two weeks, Therres said, although a biologist did speak to someone about cougars last week. He did not know if the caller was from Harford County.
Of the 20 to 40 calls made about cougars annually, they are evenly split between western Maryland and the greater Baltimore area.
"If there was a population of cougars in the Baltimore metropolitan area, we would have some pretty conclusive evidence by now. One would have been hit by a car or something," he said.